Neck pain

Many people suffer from neck pain and it can have a variety of causes. If you or a family member has neck pain, there are many things you can do to help recover and prevent the pain from returning.


If you have flu-like symptoms along with a stiff painful neck and difficulty bending your head forward, call your doctor immediately.

Neck pain can be severe and can occur with or cause dizziness, nausea, headache, or tingling and numbness of your hands.

Causes of neck pain

You might know exactly what brought on a neck problem, like a car accident, a fall or over-exertion in an exercise or activity.

Muscle spasms are one of the most common sources of neck pain. They are usually caused by:

  • having your head or neck in an unusual position for some time
  • repeated or extensive movements
  • stress or anxiety
  • arthritis in the bones of your spine (vertebrae)
  • muscle strain from injury
  • sleeping with a pillow that is too big or too small.

Other causes of neck pain can be:

  • pinched nerves
  • inflamed lymph nodes
  • arthritis
  • bone disorders
  • tumours
  • thyroid inflammation.


Self-care for neck pain

If you have muscle pain and difficulty moving your neck, follow these steps to ease the pain and speed up your recovery.

  • If you work at a screen, have your work station checked by an expert.
  • Use hot or cold compresses to help stop muscle spasms, whichever one gives you the most relief. Alternating heat and cold may help.
    • Apply ice or cold packs to the painful area for 10–15 minutes every few hours. Wrap a plastic bag of ice (or a bag of frozen vegetables) in a cloth or light towel. Never place ice directly on your skin.
    • Apply a moist, warm compress, a warm wheat bag or covered hot water bottle to the painful area for 20–30 minutes several times a day. Keep the compress warm for best effect.
  • Move your head often and gently in all directions, as long as the movement is not forced. Movement is important for healing. Tuck your chin in, bend your head back, turn your head from side to side, and repeat this exercise often.
  • Massage the area gently.
  • Take anti-inflammatory medication such as aspirin or ibuprofen as directed and approved by your doctor.

Most muscle-related neck pain will go away and not come back if you follow these steps. After the pain and muscle spasm symptoms have gone, you can then do exercises to help improve your neck’s flexibility, strength and stability.

Medicine precautions

  1. Do not give aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) or aspirin-containing products to anyone 18 years or younger because of the risk of a serious illness called Reye's syndrome.
  2. Take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) with food or milk to prevent stomach irritation. Do not give NSAIDs to anyone with:
    • NSAID-induced asthma
    • Increased risk of bleeding, such as ulcer disease, a bleeding disorder, if taking blood thinners (anticoagulants), or following surgery, significant trauma or major dental work
    • an allergy to NSAIDs.

When to see your doctor

See your doctor if you have neck pain that is not relieved by the self-care tips above, or if it continues or worsens after exercising.

Some conditions, such as arthritis, nerve or disc problems, lymph node inflammation or bone disorders require assessment and treatment by a doctor.

Call Healthline 0800 611 116 if you are unsure what you should do.

If you have flu-like symptoms along with a stiff painful neck and difficulty bending your head forward, call your doctor immediately.


  • Take frequent breaks for a few minutes every hour from what you are doing to change position. Stretch and move stiff areas of your neck and shoulders.
  • When lifting, hold items close to your body, even if they are not heavy.
  • Lift with your legs instead of your back.
  • Avoid reaching overhead with your arms too far from your body.
  • Avoid moving your neck up or down a lot.

A healthcare professional, such as your GP, a physiotherapist, or orthopaedic or sports medicine specialist may be able to suggest some exercises to help strengthen your neck and avoid further episodes of muscle strain or spasm.

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